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From Reaction to Response: Mastering The Emotional Trigger in Parenting

from reaction to response
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Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

As parents, it’s easy to react impulsively to our children’s behavior, especially when stressed or tired. These knee-jerk reactions can sometimes lead to frustration and conflict. However, managing emotional triggers and dysregulated behaviors can transform these reactions into thoughtful responses, fostering a healthier and more supportive family environment.

For Amy, when she imagined having a child, she thought she would leave behind all the ways her parents had parented her. Her father, a functional alcoholic, was a negative man who they had to walk on eggshells around. 

When she and Jim had kids, they imagined a world where their home was peaceful and full of love. Instead, her son Aaron’s impulsive and aggressive behaviors, often fueled by sensory triggers, lead to a whole lot of friction. Something Amy tried to avoid her entire life. Even though Aaron’s clinical issues were part of the chaos at home, Amy had to ask herself why she was so triggered and reactive

Emotional Response or Trigger Definition 


Emotional triggers are specific situations, words, or behaviors that evoke a strong emotional response. In parenting, common triggers might include a child's tantrum, backtalk, or refusal to follow the rules. These triggers can stem from past experiences, unresolved issues, or current stressors. Recognizing these triggers is the first step toward mastering them.

A study by Abramowitz and Berenbaum (2007) utilized an emotion regulation framework to investigate the relationship between emotional triggers and the severity of impulsive-compulsive behaviors in young adults. Participants reported their impulsive-compulsive behaviors, emotional triggers, impulsivity, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms

The findings showed that both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, particularly anger and shame, were strongly associated with more severe impulsive–compulsive psychopathology. The results suggest that viewing impulsive–compulsive behaviors through an emotion regulation lens is valuable for understanding and classifying these behaviors, highlighting the significant role of emotional states in driving impulsive and compulsive actions.

BLOG From Reaction to Response Mastering The Emotional Trigger in Parenting

Why is Parenting Such An Emotional Trigger? 

Parenting comes with many joys and challenges, and as Amy recognized, she had to deal with her own “stuff” not to get so emotionally triggered by her son Aaron’s behavior

1. Personal History and Upbringing

  • Mirroring Past Experiences: Parents may be triggered by behaviors reflecting their childhood experiences, mainly if they had negative or unresolved issues with their parents or siblings.
  • Unmet Needs: If a parent had unmet emotional needs as a child, they might have a solid reaction to similar situations involving their children, driven by a subconscious desire to rectify their past.

2. Fear and Anxiety About Parenting

  • Fear of Judgment: Concern about how others perceive their parenting skills can trigger strong reactions. Public tantrums or defiance can be embarrassing and lead to fear of negative judgment by others.
  • Anxiety Over Child's Future: Parents may fear that certain behaviors (like laziness or dishonesty) are signs of future failure, leading to overreactions in the present.

3. Control and Power Dynamics

  • Feeling Powerless: When children defy their parents or ignore instructions, it can trigger feelings of powerlessness or loss of control, which is deeply unsettling for many parents.
  • Boundary Testing: Children and teens naturally test boundaries as a part of growing up. Parents might react strongly to this testing due to concerns over respect, authority, and establishing family norms.

4. Stress and External Pressures

  • Daily Stressors: The cumulative effect of stress from work, financial pressures, or relationship issues can lower a parent's threshold for tolerance, making them more likely to react strongly to their child's behavior.
  • Lack of Support: Feeling isolated in parenting responsibilities can exacerbate emotional responses, especially if a parent lacks a supportive network or co-parenting partner.

5. Personal Values and Expectations

  • Clash of Values: Strong reactions may occur when a child's behavior conflicts with a parent's deeply held values or beliefs, leading to disappointment or anger.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Parents might have specific expectations for their child's behavior, achievements, or attitudes based on their aspirations or societal pressures. Falling short of these can trigger frustration and anger.

6. Emotional Regulation and Self-awareness

  • Limited Emotional Regulation Skills: Parents who struggle with emotional regulation may find it difficult to model or teach these skills to their children, leading to escalated emotional responses.
  • Projection: Sometimes, parents project their insecurities, fears, or unresolved issues onto their children, reacting not just to the behavior itself but to what it symbolizes.

BLOG From Reaction to Response Mastering The Emotional Trigger in Parenting (1)

Strategies for Addressing Emotional Triggers From Parenting

  • Wait Before You Respond: Don’t respond to every misbehavior. Instead, take a minute and regulate before you do. 
  • Self-reflection: Regularly reflecting on one's emotional responses and origins can help parents understand and address their triggers.
  • Calming the Nervous System: Care must be taken to calm one’s nervous system regularly. There are various ways to do that, including breathing exercises, neurofeedback, and PEMF
  • Mindfulness and Stress Reduction: Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and physical exercise can improve overall emotional regulation.
  • Open Communication: Engaging in open and honest dialogues with children about feelings, expectations, and behaviors can foster mutual understanding and respect.
  • Seek Support: Counseling or support groups can provide valuable insights and strategies for managing emotional triggers.

Parenting is hard, and you need support like Amy got. Amy learned about her son’s issues and parenting and a clear path to managing those behaviors by getting the Self-Regulation Mastery Blueprint and being a part of our community.

What are triggers in mental health?

Triggers in mental health are specific events, situations, or stimuli that provoke an intense emotional reaction, often related to past trauma or stress. These reactions can significantly impact a person's mental and emotional well-being.

What is an emotional trigger?

An emotional trigger is a specific stimulus that elicits a strong emotional response, often tied to past experiences or unresolved emotions. This can include feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, or distress.

What do triggers look like?

Triggers can vary widely and include sights, sounds, smells, locations, people, or even words. They often lead to noticeable changes in behavior, mood, or physical responses.

What does it mean to be triggered?

To be triggered means experiencing an intense emotional or psychological reaction to a specific stimulus, often bringing up feelings or memories of past trauma or distress. This reaction can be overwhelming and challenging to manage.

What happens when someone is triggered?

When someone is triggered, they may experience a range of reactions such as panic attacks, flashbacks, intense emotional outbursts, or withdrawal. These responses can disrupt daily functioning and well-being.

Why is it important for caregivers to identify triggers?

Caregivers must identify triggers to help prevent or mitigate intense emotional reactions, provide appropriate support, and create a safer, more understanding environment for the individual. This knowledge can enhance the effectiveness of coping strategies and therapeutic interventions.

Citation

Abramowitz, A., & Berenbaum, H. (2007). Emotional triggers and their relation to impulsive and compulsive psychopathology. Personality and Individual Differences, 43(6), 1356–1365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2007.04.004

Dr. Roseann is a mental health expert in Self-Regulation who frequently is in the media:

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Licensed Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including The Mel Robbins Show, CBS, NBC, PIX11 NYC, Today, FORBES, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, Women’s Day, Healthline, CNET, Parade Magazine and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She coined the terms, “Re-entry panic syndrome” and “eco-anxiety” and is a frequent contributor to media on mental health. 

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge has three decades of experience in working with children, teens and their families with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, concussion, dyslexia and learning disability, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and mood disorder, Lyme Disease, and PANS/PANDAS using science-backed natural mental health solutions such as supplements, magnesium, nutrition, QEEG Brain maps, neurofeedback, PEMF, psychotherapy and other non-medication approaches. 

She is the author of three bestselling books, It’s Gonna Be OK!: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child's Mental Health, The Teletherapy Toolkit, and Brain Under Attack. Dr. Roseann is known for offering a message of hope through science-endorsed methods that promote a calm brain. 

Her trademarked BrainBehaviorResetⓇ Program and It’s Gonna be OK!Ⓡ Podcast has been a cornerstone for thousands of parents facing mental health, behavioral or neurodevelopmental challenges.

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health, Neurotastic™Brain Formulas and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

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